Sustainable Alternatives to Plastic Straws
by Tatiana Orr
Most people do not think twice about using a plastic straw. It seems like such a small thing to make such a big fuss about, but when you consider the long term effects it makes all the more sense to opt for alternatives.
Plastic straws are one of the most widely used and discarded plastic products. Eight million tons of plastic pollute our oceans each year. While an estimated 0.025% of that is attributed to plastic straws it adds up to a lot more than one might think. In the United States alone over five hundred million straws are used daily. Globally, as much as 8.3 billion plastic straws end up on beaches and are one of the top pollutants that are harmful to marine life. Research shows that about 800 different species are negatively impacted by ocean pollution killing at least 100,000 sea mammals.
Plastic straws are not biodegradable because most of them are manufactured using the chemical compound polypropylene. This means they cannot be broken down naturally by bacteria or insects. Single use straws often end up in the trash that later flows into our oceans. Like other single use plastics, straws break down into microplastics that release toxic chemicals (such as BPA) and end up adding to the pollution in our environment. Straws are also most times not recyclable because once we dispose of them there is very little use left in them. They are categorized as a type 5 plastic if they contain PP making them even harder to recycle. Altogether the risk of using plastic straws outweighs the reward. It is simply not worth the damage it causes.
The good news is there are alternatives to plastic straws that are not only affordable, but offer a long term solution to a serious problem. Purchasing a reusable or biodegradable straw is a small and simple act you can take to help reduce the amount of plastic that clogs up our oceans and waterways.
The first alternative is glass. Glass straws are not only chic, but can be used on beverages of any temperature. They are easy to clean and long lasting so they can be used an infinite number of times without wearing down.
Metal straws are another long lasting option for a reusable straw just be careful when using them on hot beverages. Stainless steel, titanium, or sterling silver you can accessorize your drink and save the environment at the same time.
Bamboo straws are a common favorite. Since bamboo trees grow quickly they are a wonderful source, and it is compostable! So once it is no longer fit to use you can simply return it to the earth by adding it to your compost bin.
Papaya leaf stems are a lovely natural straw you can pluck straight from nature and use. All you have to do is rinse it if you want to avoid tasting sap but otherwise it is as organic as it gets.
Straw straws are also an option. The company Straw by Straw specializes in making 100% natural and compostable straws that are softer than plastic and won’t go soggy like paper.
Paper straws are a compostable and biodegradable option that can get a little soggy. Companies like Aardvark Straws make ones that come in a range of fun colors and last longer in drinks than others.
Silicone straws are the most kid friendly option because they bend and flex like a plastic straw and kids can chew on them without worrying about the repercussions. A lot of cups with built in straws are silicon so they can be reused and are dishwasher safe. It is harder to recycle silicon, but it produces nine times less greenhouse gases than plastic.
Edible straws offer more range with flavorless or flavorful alternatives that dissolve in your drink or you can eat once you finish with them. Most of them are made of sugar and are GMO free. They might not last long but it's the sweetest alternative there is.
While it is just one part of a much larger issue every little thing we do to contribute to change should be explored. Straws are something we are all accustomed to using, but you can also choose to use no straw and sip straight from the cup. If you are going to use a straw make it one that can be reused or composted and challenge yourself to think twice about single-use plastic. Once we all make the decision to popularize these alternatives it will easily change the norm and save the lives of thousands of animals in the process. It is time we finally leave plastic straws behind.